"I returned to Concord, hired a shop on Main Street, purchased materials, and established the business of brass clock-making, no person having before undertaken this enterprise in New Hampshire."
--Levi Hutchins, Autobiography, p. 56.
Exhibiting a remarkably rare form and accomplished craftsmanship, this wall timepiece is an important survival from late eighteenth-century New Hampshire. More indicative of the clockmaker's pride in his craft than historically accurate, the above statement reveals that the timepiece offered here was made during a short period of time in late 1785 or 1786, when Levi Hutchins (1761-1855) had moved to Concord but before he had set up business with his brother, Abel (1763-1853). At this time, Levi Hutchins had recently completed a three-year apprenticeship with Simon Willard (1753-1848), arguably eighteenth-century America's most inventive clockmaker, and this timepiece reflects the influence of his renowned master. Hutchins' apprenticeship coincided with Simon Willard's production of thirty-hour wall clocks, the so-called "Grafton wall clocks," which despite this moniker, were also made in Roxbury in the 1780s. With a circular brass dial, Arabic and Roman chapter rings separated by a minute-marker ring and distinctive flourishes to the lettering, the dial illustrated here is closely related to those on a number of Willard's wall clocks (for an example, see the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acc. no. 34.33). Essentially a dovetailed box, this rare case form is known as a 'coffin clock' and was also part of Willard's oeuvre, an example of which is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 37.37.2). For related shelf clocks by Levi Hutchins, see Charles S. Parsons, New Hampshire Clocks & Clockmaking (Exeter, New Hampshire, 1976), pp. 170-171, figs. 279-283.
Levi Hutchins was born in Harvard, Massachusetts and as a young boy witnessed the beginnings of the American Revolution. Serving as a fifer in his father's company, Hutchins was among those who responded to the Lexington Alarm on April 19, 1775 and two months later witnessed the burning of Charlestown. He subsequently enlisted in Captain Lewis' company and marched to New York where he was posted in Red Hook before being discharged in September 1776. He had been well educated and for a time, he taught school. According to Paul J. Foley, Hutchins served his apprenticeship with Willard from 1783 to 1785 and after a brief stint in a watch repairer's shop in Abington, Connecticut, moved to Concord, New Hampshire where his father had relocated. Soon after his move, he was joined by Abel and the brothers operated a business on Main Street from 1786 to 1803. In 1802, they advertised for an apprentice "to the business of Painting, particularly clock faces..." and it is likely that their nineteenth-century clocks featured white-painted dials. In 1804, Levi advertised his own business in the back of his house, opposite Gale's Tavern and, as recounted in his autobiography, an exceedingly rare and rich document on artisanal life in early America, he continued to make clocks until the 1830s ([Levi Hutchins], The Autobiography of Levi Hutchins (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1865), passim; Paul J. Foley, Willard's Patent Time Pieces: A History of the Weight-Driven Banjo Clock, 1800-1900 (Norwell, Massachusetts, 2002), p. 270).